Kumari named associate provost for K-12 initiatives
BY B.J. ALMOND
Rice News staff
Siva Kumari has been appointed associate provost for K-12 initiatives to coordinate the university’s many programs aimed at helping local teachers and schools, Provost Eugene Levy announced July 1. Kumari is charged with creating an Office of K-12 Initiatives to facilitate kindergarten, elementary and secondary school projects undertaken by Rice faculty and staff.
“It is an opportune time to assess, coordinate and improve Rice’s engagement with Houston’s K-12 education system, provide innovative educational resources to the broader Houston population and develop a more structured approach to overseeing the teacher training that takes place on our campus,” Levy said.
Although Rice does not have a school of education, thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers come to campus each year for training in math, science, engineering, technology and other specialties. The training programs are conducted by a variety of schools, centers, institutes and departments at Rice. Having Kumari in this position will help the university leverage these efforts to achieve greater impact, Levy said.
“Siva is an ideal administrator for this new challenge,” he said. “As adviser on K-12 initiatives for the past two years, she has developed extensive knowledge of many of the educational programs under way here, and of what can be done to make them even more successful.”
Associate Provost Roland Smith Jr., who has been heavily involved in Rice’s K-12 efforts, will be taking on a university-wide leadership role in issues related to diversity. Having a diverse community of scholars and learners is essential to Rice’s mission and its Vision for the Second Century.
Kumari, who has a doctorate in education from the University of Houston, said she is eager to contribute to the success of the city’s public school teachers and students. “Ever since I came to Rice in 1994, I’ve been engaged in K-12 outreach,” she said. “There is no greater pleasure than to have a teacher come to campus and tell me how happy they are to improve their teaching through lessons learned at Rice.”
While Kumari is familiar with many of the teacher-training programs at Rice, she is also aware that more coordination would be beneficial. “We need a system to capture the multitude of projects effectively, create a central place for faculty and staff to report the good work they’re doing in the K-12 community and most importantly for them to seek help as needed,” she said.
In her new role, Kumari plans to create a system for collecting this information. “There are a lot of wonderful projects on this campus that we can propel to greater heights by assisting with the logistical coordination with schools so faculty can spend more time with the participants,” she said.
“Once we know most of the projects that are under way, we can analyze where we need more programs,” she said. ”We can take a look at the community’s needs and figure out whether we’re going to the right schools and whether we need to be engaged in other areas.”
A number of well-established Rice teacher-training programs have developed over the past few decades. The Rice University School Mathematics Project (RUSMP), for example, was established in 1987, and now more than 500 educators each year attend a wide gamut of courses, including the summer campus program. The Center for Education also administers long-standing programs, including the Rice Elementary Model Science Lab.
The Advanced Placement (AP) Summer Institute offered by the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies — the school’s longest-running program for teachers — had 2,300 attendees last year from more than 300 school districts, which makes it the largest program of its kind in the U.S. That growth occurred under Kumari’s leadership as associate dean for continuing studies.
Kumari, who joined the Glasscock School in 2000, created a model of professional development for K-12 teachers that engages Rice and other higher-education faculty. Rice is the only university that offers professional development for teachers in both of the major college preparatory programs — AP and International Baccalaureate (IB).
These are just a few of the more than 85 university-sponsored or hosted educational outreach initiatives currently at Rice. More recently developed projects are poised to make significant impact. The Rice Educational Entrepreneurship Program funded by a grant from Houston Endowment and developed by the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management through community collaboration to develop local school leaders is one. The DREAM project that mentors high school students in creating engineering design projects is another.
The ability to demonstrate what Rice is doing for the K-12 community can prove advantageous when seeking much needed external financial support for some projects that cannot reach a new plateau without additional funds, Kumari said.
“The Houston community in general is becoming increasingly concerned that not enough students are taking on science and math education to sustain a vibrant local economy,” she said. “Rice is well-known for its professional development among teachers around town, but we also need to get that word out to other people in the community. We need to create more projects for our faculty and staff to engage with schools without having to worry about the logistics of coordination.”
One way to help faculty connect with schools to generate student enthusiasm about science is through the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s new civic scientist series, which sends faculty members out into the community to talk about their love of teaching and research. The School of Humanities is developing a humanist scientist series also. Undergraduate student groups have also been going into schools to present science concepts to K-12 students.
Kumari plans to hire an outreach program director to coordinate Rice’s K-12 outreach efforts and to assist faculty seeking grants for more programs.
“I’m excited about championing all the good work around campus and creating easy pathways for our faculty and staff to engage with the K-12 community in meaningful ways,” Kumari said.
Kumari was appointed adviser to the provost for K-12 initiatives in 2006 while continuing to serve as associate dean at the Glasscock School. She will work with Dean Mary McIntire to ensure a smooth transition for the school’s programs. In addition to working with Rice outreach programs, she serves on advisory boards for both the College Board and the International Baccalaureate Organization.
In 2006 the Rice Board of Trustees recognized Kumari for her outstanding contributions to the university. This year she received the Adelle F. Robertson Professional Continuing Educator Award from the University Continuing Education Association, which recognizes continuing educators for producing scholarship, demonstrating leadership and making significant contributions to the profession.